Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, was fired from his previous job for erratic behavior and has a penchant for embracing conspiracy theories. He – along with Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone – are now under investigation for possibly coordinating efforts between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election.
That is the context in which to understand the fact that government officials just leaked this information to the Washington Post.
National security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former U.S. officials said.
Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.
Apparently Flynn was communicating with Kislyak both before the election and throughout the transition. But it was their conversations in the days surrounding the Obama administration’s announcement of sanctions against Russia for interfering in the election that are the problem.
Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
All of those officials said Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.
It is Flynn’s assurances that the penalties against Russia would be reviewed by Trump that is a possible violation of the Logan Act – which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments having a dispute with the U.S. That act was passed in 1799 and has never been adjudicated, so prosecution could be difficult.
Two things are important to keep in mind about this. First of all, it was after those assurances were provided that Russia took an unprecedented step in response to the penalties.
Official concern about Flynn’s interactions with Kislyak was heightened when Putin declared on Dec. 30 that Moscow would not retaliate after the Obama administration announced a day earlier the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies and the forced closure of Russian-owned compounds in Maryland and New York.
Instead, Putin said he would focus on “the restoration of Russia-United States relations” after Obama left office, and put off considering any retaliatory measures until Moscow had a chance to evaluate Trump’s policies…
Putin’s reaction cut against a long practice of reciprocation on diplomatic expulsions, and came after his foreign minister had vowed that there would be reprisals against the United States.
Secondly, if Flynn wasn’t concerned about the legality of the subject of their conversations, why did he lie about it?
Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.”
It is worth noting that there is now evidence that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump get elected. Were assurances that they would get relief from sanctions part of the quid pro quo arrangement? It certainly looks that way.